What My Firm Learned From 2 Years of 4-Day Workweeks
By now, you’ve probably heard about the four-day workweek study in the United Kingdom.
The premise was simple: More than 60 companies across all kinds of industries participated in a trial to pay people 100% of their earnings for 80% of their time, all while trying to get 100% of the results.
It was the largest study of its kind. The results were just released in late February, with almost all positive feedback from employees and employers alike.
Employees said they were able to reduce burnout and more easily combine work with care responsibilities, while organizations reported reduced turnover without significant impact on revenues and profitability. In the end, more than nine in 10 employers said they were continuing the four-day workweek beyond the trial period.
These positive results may be a surprise to some but not to me. For the past two years, my colleagues and I have been working four-day workweeks at The Starr Conspiracy, and I can personally attest that it’s come with mostly positives — though there have been surprising challenges along the way.
Too Much Work, Not Enough Time (or so We Thought)
Very soon after the pandemic started, the company implemented a series of changes.
We first tried to limit meetings on Friday, then eventually started taking every other Friday off. I remember my first Friday off. I ripped out an old deck attached to my newly bought house.
Despite that change, we were still burning out on too much work and not enough time.
Those limited-meeting Fridays every other week became a way to get meetings that we couldn’t get Monday through Thursday. A day that had been set aside for people to catch up on work became just another day of the grind. It was a drag. It had been such a stressful year, and even our every other Friday off felt like the only time when we could actually get deep work done.
So, the leadership team proposed the biggest step forward: have four-day workweeks every week. Not four 10-hour days, either. The intention was to keep them normal-length days.
As the company's founder and CEO Bret Starr said when we put it out to vote, “It may seem counterintuitive to do that right now, but perhaps right now is exactly when we should do it.”
At the time, there were no studies on whether a four-day workweek could work or if it would just exacerbate our challenges. Few organizations were doing four-day workweeks, so we couldn’t really pull in best practices from anyone.
Related Article: The 4-Day Workweek: Is It Worth It?
Our 4-Day Workweeks: What Worked — and What Didn’t
One thing you learn very quickly is your time becomes extremely valuable with one fewer day of work.
Without the pressure release of Fridays, we had to put limits on meetings immediately. Every workday had three hours blocked off from meetings at different times throughout the week to have dedicated time to focus on whatever was pressing. With varying times available, we could generally accommodate any individual client’s need.
There were very few other mandates from the top. Ultimately, everyone on the team had to figure out how to make it work.
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It was chaotic and often messy. We had to find optimizations to squeeze every minute out of the day, from a compressed morning huddle to new project management software to communication norms. In a remote-friendly environment, everyone had to figure out how to work under this new schedule. It wasn’t easy.
While most of our clients understood, some insisted on meeting or delivering work on Fridays. To meet those clients' needs, we had to plan, pace and work differently. Even with the incentive of perpetual three-day weekends, change is tough.
The point is, while I don’t think anyone at the company would want to return to a five-day workweek, a four-day workweek hasn’t been a silver bullet, either.
Our employee net promoter score still fluctuates based on what’s happening at work. Our business hasn’t been immune to the challenges of being a professional services provider during a tech downturn. While we’ve had successful client acquisitions and hiring, we have also lost clients and laid off talented individuals.
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A Better, More Resilient Workforce
In spite of the challenges, what we've ended up with is a workforce that can bring their best selves to work as consistently as possible.
Tomorrow is always unknown but because we aren’t perpetually fighting burnout and turnover woes, we’re better prepared for whatever work throws at us. It's also made everyone all the more productive.
Personally, three-day weekends have been a life-changer. Having more time for personal pursuits, time to make appointments or even time doing housework has deeply affected my quality of life.
I still work Fridays on occasion, about the same as I would have on a Saturday or Sunday before the switch. Even then, it has become one of my preferred time to do any extra work that I need to complete since I am not sacrificing time with family, who unfortunately still work and go to school five days a week.
It’s important to put that life change in perspective. Everyone of us has worked hard to figure this new workweek out for us, and even to this day, we have to make adjustments.
Nothing's perfect, but four-day workweeks work for us, and it now seems we're not the only ones seeing the value of it.
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About the Author
Lance Haun is a leadership and technology columnist for Reworked. He has spent nearly 20 years researching and writing about HR, work and technology.